For the first time in three years, retailers expect one title to be the clear leader among the fourth- quarter sell-through contenders: "Toy Story."
But the rest of the field consists of a solid group of box office champions that will drive sales and in-store excitement. Cross-promotional support, with an unprecedented number of tie-in partners, will create merchandising opportunities and consumer awareness.
"There's so much good stuff coming out in the fourth quarter for sell-through, that I am looking for some impressive numbers out of it all," said Randy Weddington, video specialist at Harps Food Stores, Springdale, Ark.
"It's going to be incredible," said Rick Ang, buyer at Video Mart, Sacramento, Calif., which racks video departments in 17 Bel Air supermarkets in the Sacramento area.
"Besides 'Toy Story,' we've got 'Twister' and 'Mission: Impossible,' and who knows what else might come out by then. It is going to be real exciting. We've got movies covering all the different age groups and appealing to a wide variety of people," said Ang.
The strong and diverse roster of top event titles known so far to be coming out in time for fourth-quarter sales includes recent theatrical hits, an impressive group of reissues and a large number of children's and family titles. Here's how the list is shaping up:
Adult-targeted theatrical hits: "Twister," due out Oct. 1, from Warner Home Video, Burbank, Calif., for a suggested retail price of $22.96; "Mission: Impossible," Nov. 12, Paramount Home Video, Hollywood, Calif; "Phenomenon," Dec. 1, Buena Vista Home Video, Burbank, Calif.; "Independence Day," from FoxVideo, Los Angeles, is now expected at sell-through pricing early in the first quarter.
Reissues: "Wizard of Oz," Sept. 10, MGM/UA Home Entertainment, Santa Monica, Calif.; "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial," Oct. 1, MCA/Universal Home Video, Universal City, Calif., $14.98; "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," Oct. 1, Warner, $19.98.
Children's and family movies: "Muppet Treasure Island," Sept. 10, Buena Vista, $22.99; "Oliver and Co.," Sept. 24, Buena Vista, $26.99; "Flipper," Oct. 8, MCA/Universal, $19.98; "James and the Giant Peach," Oct. 15, Buena Vista, $22.99; "The Adventures of Pinocchio," Nov. 5, New Line Home Video, Los Angeles; and the direct-to-video "The Land Before Time IV: Journey Through the Mists," Dec. 10, MCA/Universal, $19.98.
Meanwhile, distributors expect some titles released in the summer to keep selling in the fourth quarter. Among these: "Homeward Bound II," July 30, Buena Vista, $22.99; the direct-to-video "Aladdin and the King of Thieves," Aug. 13, Buena Vista, $15.95; "All Dogs Go to Heaven 2," Aug. 27, MGM/UA, $22.98; and the reissue of "The Sound of Music," Aug. 27, FoxVideo, $19.98.
The fourth-quarter sales juggernaut will be further bolstered by rental titles repriced to sell-through levels, popular releases from much earlier in the year, like "Pocahontas" and "Babe," and sales of previously viewed movies.
"I suspect the fourth quarter will be better than last year's," said Tom Styers, director of general merchandise at Seessel's Supermarkets, Memphis, Tenn. " 'Toy Story,' in my opinion, will probably be the bulk of that. There is so much hype on it," he said.
"I am very optimistic about the sales potential of sell-through video in the fourth quarter, especially with 'Toy Story,' coming out with a great program of natural tie-ins for supermarkets," said Brad Ufer, video merchandiser at Coborn's, St. Cloud, Minn. "Sell-through in the fourth quarter is lining up to be just as aggressive as it was last year," said Bill Bryant, assistant vice president of major accounts and special markets at Ingram Entertainment, La Vergne, Tenn. For supermarkets, this will mean "added excitement, increased revenues, add-on sales of nonvideo retail products and repeat business," he said.
"On the whole, I think this will be one of our best fourth quarters in several years, for both sell-through and rental," said a video executive with a Southwestern chain, who asked not to be identified.
"From what I know of what's coming out, I think this is going to be a better fourth quarter than last year for sell-through," said Kyle Holdaway, video buyer at Harmon's, West Valley City, Utah.
The ability to bring in extra rental copies of movies priced for sell-through will boost the rental side of the business, said the unidentified executive. "But there are going to be plenty of great rental-priced titles, too."
A lot of good movies were passed up at the box office when people went in droves to see "Twister," "Mission: Impossible" and "Independence Day" during the summer. "People are waiting for those titles and are ready to rent them on video," he said.
"I have always felt optimistic about rental. I continue to see our rental market share grow in the communities in which we do business," said Coborn's Ufer.
"Twister" will be a particularly good rental title, noted Gary Schloss, vice president of grocery and general merchandise, Carr Gottstein Foods, Anchorage, Alaska. "We are going to bring in multiple, multiple copies for rental because it is going to be a super strong renter," he said.
Coborn's has a strategy in place for buying these movies for rental, said Ufer. "Depending on the genre, we have developed a plan for how many we will need to satisfy our customers' rental needs," he said. Ufer would not reveal details of the plan.
But some retailers say the upsurge in sell-through titles that would have come out for rental a year or two ago is hurting the rental business. A video executive with a Midwest retailer who asked not to be identified said, "Thirty to 40% of the big-draw titles are going direct to sell-through this year.
"Those titles are not going to be there to draw customers into the rental departments. That has got to have an effect on rentals," he said.
The retailer has had mixed results in putting extra copies of sell-through titles out for rental. "We've been burned in the past. 'Pocahontas' is one example where we put a lot out for rental, but the intent to buy was too strong," he said.
Some titles, like "Twister" and "Mission: Impossible," might do well for rental, he acknowledged. "But it's just another avenue for losing money. I'm not making money by selling it. Now I have to put it out on the shelves for rental and not make money on it," he said.
"The number of people who want to own these titles is growing," said the executive with the Southwestern chain. "I'm not sure if the demand has always been there or if the studios have created the demand, but we certainly welcome and embrace the trend," he said.
"Twister" will be the first sell-through title Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C., will bring in that is not specifically a children's or family movie, said spokeswoman Cecily Durrett. "It is our first foray into that segment of the market. We think it may have mass appeal and we will be closely tracking that," she said.
With more of Food Lion's stores open 24 hours, it is attracting an adult audience beyond the family trade, she said. "The demos may change a bit after 8 or 9 at night, so we are considering more live-action movies like these," she said.
But the children's and family market is still fundamental for supermarkets like Food Lion and others.
"I have always found that we get our best sell-through response from the kids' movies," said Schloss of Carr Gottstein. "Movies like 'Speed' and 'Twister' do well, but not nearly as well as the Disney titles. We will buy lots of copies, stack them up and sell as many as we can, but I don't expect to sell 10,000 copies like I would on a big Disney title," he said.
Schloss said the repeatability of a movie is a key to its sell-through potential. "When it comes to kids' movies, people are building libraries because the kids will watch those movies over and over," he said.
But people are buying the adult-targeted movies like "Twister," as well. "There is a market for those out there, people who want to build up a library of that kind of movie. So we expect 'Twister' will do well." But "Independence Day" will do even better when it comes out, he predicted.
"Our market is more for the family-oriented movies," said Harmon's Holdaway. The live-action theatricals sell "and we have a market for them. But nothing compares to the Disney-type movies."
The sales of these movies depends on the retailer, noted Coborn's Ufer. "Our success or failure in this area is dictated by our level of effort. The more effort we put into it, the more successful we are," he said.
"There are a lot of live-action films being released. The sell-through category is moving toward the entire family rather than just being a children's segment, as it has been in the past for supermarkets. Adults are starting to collect libraries of sell-through product, and the studios are recognizing that these products are going to sell extremely well in supermarkets," said Ingram's Bryan.
For example, for "Twister," Warner Home Video created shippers and other merchandising materials that will work particularly well in supermarkets.
Warner will conduct a national display-building contest that is targeted at supermarkets, he said. "That is also an advantage for grocery because a lot of mass merchants have policies that won't allow them to create any out-of-the ordinary displays, and drug stores typically don't bring in enough units to warrant a major display," said Sanders.
The shippers for "Twister" are also very distinctive. For example, a 96-unit merchandiser is created in the image of an upended pick-up truck, with the product sold from the body of the truck. Other shippers illustrate the movie's destructive elements.
"The packs on that title are real inventive," said Ang. "One looks like a crashed car and another resembles a blown-up building," he said.
Even the trade promotional materials conveyed the energy of the movie, said the unidentified executive with the Southwestern chain.